May 4th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: The limitations of American power

When will John Howard step down?

BANKING: Kiwibank takes off in New Zealand

QLD: Philippines banana imports endanger Australian industry, wildlife

Straws in the Wind: Monocultured multiculturalism / Reporting China

LAW: High Court ducks IVF issue

ALP must put forward alternative program: Doug Cameron

Refugee stance defended (letter)

Banks' deceptive conduct (letter)

Tax holidays for multinationals (letter)

MEDIA: Shoot the messenger

The promise - and pitfalls - of free trade

What Gusmao's election means for East Timor

COMMENT: Holocaust taunts misguided

BOOKS: Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News, by Bernard Goldberg

Demons and Democrats: Kim Beazley's view

Books promotion page

Philippines banana imports endanger Australian industry, wildlife

by Victor Sirl

News Weekly, May 4, 2002

Banana imports from the Philippines may bring a variety of diseases to Australia, but the threat of invading frogs has the potential for a ecological disaster not yet widely discussed.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, frogs from the Philippines could destroy native frog populations; but just as concerning is the fact that exotic frogs have the ability to transmit diseases across species.

Senator John Cherry, from the Australian Democrats, has publicly raised the issue, warning of "the potential ecological disaster to native frogs in addition to the very substantial damage that could be done to our $400 million banana industry if exotic diseases like Black Sigatoka, Moko, Bugtok, Freckle or Bract Mosaic got into Australia."

Cherry was recently on Wide Bay ABC radio with a representative of the National Civic Council discussing the issue. The interviewer found it unusual that such organisations would share the same platform, but both parties were happy with the situation.

Alliances of a very diverse nature may become a permanent feature regarding debates surrounding Australian quarantine regulations.

Conservation organisations are going to agree with agricultural industries every time when it comes to not allowing introduced pests and diseases into the country. Their network of scientific experts should be exploited while other differences are put aside.

Biosecurity Australia, part of the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS), is doing an Import Risk Assessment on importation of Philippines bananas. The Australian Banana Growers Council has hired legal experts to oversee Biosecurity Australia's handling of the import application from the Philippines.

Biosecurity Australia has stated a number of concerns regarding allowing the bananas into the country, but it is viewed with suspicion following its decision to allow import of apples from New Zealand, where Fire Blight is endemic. It is perceived as pursuing a free trade agenda, sometimes at the expense of sound scientific advice.

The Philippines have pushed the free trade barrow by stating that Australia's beef exports would be in jeopardy if bananas imports are rejected. However, the executive officer of the Banana Growers Council, Ross Boyle, has stated that members of the beef industry have expressed support for his organisation, providing any decision is based on scientific grounds.

In any case, for Australia to bow to this pressure would open every Australian primary industry to trade blackmail.

Secondly, while some in the beef industry may be nervous about the threat to live cattle exports to the Philippines, one has to ask how whether the Philippines, who import Australian cattle because of price and quality, would punish themselves by cutting off a major source of supply? Why should they ruin their own profitability to help banana growers sell diseased produce in Australia?

Yet beyond the push for free trade or efforts to save the banana industry there are broader implications to consider. We must remember that it is very difficult to always assess the impact on the environment of introduced species; but often diseases, such as Fire Blight for example, infect a number of species and pose a threat to a variety of industries.

Furthermore, Australia's biggest markets are in Asia and potential new markets are there as well. But the region is increasingly asking for 'clean and green' agricultural produce.

Free trade in this instance will not be good business if we destroy our natural environment by introducing pests like frogs from the Philippines, or diseases such as Fire Blight, losing one of our best marketing tools.

So to protect both Australian agriculture and the environment, unlikely alliances may emerge that are good for Australian business.

In this instance the strongest commitment has come from Queensland President of the National Civic Council, Ross Howard, who issued a media release stating, "I would stand on a platform in Nimbin with Bob Brown and Natasha Stott Despoja for the protection of frogs or any native creature at risk from these imports if it will also save farmers".

Doubtless there are things Ross Howard wouldn't do in Nimbin, but only time will tell if Biosecurity Australia and the Federal Government share his enthusiasm to protect the Australian banana industry.

  • Victor Sirl

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